Blackberry Belle – Las Vegas City Life

JARRET KEENE

When ex-Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli sings, “I caught a fever/A holy fire,” on “The Killer,” a soaring cut from his new album with the Twilight Singers, it’s clear the man is on a mission. He’s not here to save rock ‘n’ roll, of course. He’s here to drag its twitching corpse down one of Raymond Chandler’s dark alleyways – only instead of jazz squawking in the background, there’s a ghetto blaster in some tenement window pumping out a steady mix of Motown hits and Roxy Music singles.

The ghost of fin de siècle American writer Jack London makes an appearance, too, in “Martin Eden,” (the title of London’s semi-autobiographical novel about a depression-prone artist) which suggests Dulli has lately come to the realization that the life of a creative soul – which he’s lived to the hilt – is no life at all. “Black out the windows,” he croons. “It’s party time.” And Dulli’s characters will die if they want to.

A telephone’s busy signal kicks off the sexy strut of “Esta Noche,” a Rhodes organ and horn section igniting this torch song in R&B clothing. “Teenage Wristband,” meanwhile, cops a piano vibe from Coldplay, with Petra Haden snaking her voice inside Dulli’s, driving home the song’s chorus of adolescent longing (“I’m gonna stay up all night”). And “St. Gregory” car-jacks Leonard Cohen, tempting the sardonic bard with promises of gangsta-land violence (“Goddamn, I got me a gun/We goin’ cappin later on/Don’t that sound like fun?”).

Violence and misogyny have always been Dulli’s twin obsessions, and his Afghan Whigs effort, Gentlemen, stands as a monument in the alt-rock tradition, alongside such works as Daydream Nation and Nevermind. While Blackberry Belle may not match the power of these earlier works, it’s still a unique effort that deserves a wide audience.

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